TV Review: UNDONE Season 2

Kintsugi — the Japanese art of mending broken pottery with gold lacquer — finds beauty in life’s imperfections. The seams where cracks have been repaired tell a story; they’re not flaws, they’re reminders of history and resilience. A bowl featuring golden reminders of the past sits on the family table in the season 2 finale of Undone, the stunning animated series from creators Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy and director Hisko Hulsing. The bowl is a poignant symbol of the show’s overarching exploration of identity, fate, and family. Though new cracks show up in every episode, the characters find ways to mend them through love, loyalty, and acceptance. 

Streaming now on Amazon Prime, Undone follows Alma Winograd-Diaz (Rosa Salazar), a young woman who discovers that she has the ability to disconnect from linear time. She tries to use this gift to alter the events of the past and save her father Jacob (Bob Odenkirk), who died when she was just a child. Season 1 ends with Rosa attempting to realign the competing timelines and bring Jacob back for good. After ending on that cliffhanger back in 2019, season 2 is here to answer lingering questions and raise plenty more. 

All the things that made season 1 so spectacular are present in season 2: gorgeously surreal animation, stellar performances, and writing that is sharp, compassionate, and deeply personal. Salazar is a star, giving the hilarious and heartbreaking Alma a brittle desperation to set things right that sets off more than one surprising chain reaction. Her sister Becca (Angelique Cabral) gets more to do this season, and her gentle, heartfelt performance helps ground the series and emphasize the themes of family, heritage, and learning to depend on other people. Odenkirk is dry, gruff, and driven once more, but the season explores a part of his past that allows the character to plumb new depths and find the sad little boy at the heart of Jacob’s personality. Alma and Becca’s mother Camila (Constance Marie) has secrets of her own this season, and Marie’s performance finds the woman who exists outside of her role as wife and mother. 

That search to understand identity — Alma’s own and that of each of her family members — runs throughout the season. By virtue of her ability to travel through time, Alma facilitates some fascinating inner child work that hits hard for viewers, especially those of us in therapy for some of the very issues that she tries to sort through in the series. Undone is a compelling mix of magical realism and psychological drama, exploring the ways that being able to see outside the rigid confines of what we call reality is viewed by society as “crazy.” The writing is intelligent and compassionate, and the rotoscoped animation is a perfect marriage of form and function. 

A still from Undone. Alma screams as she falls through the air in a dense fog.

Rotoscoping is nothing new in animation; it’s been around since the medium’s earliest days. But the way Undone uses the technique — similar to the expressionistic storytelling of Richard Linklater’s 2001 film Waking Life — is an animation marvel. Rotoscoping in this instance allows the best of both worlds. The talented cast’s striking performances come through, preserving every facial expression or body movement — Salazar in particular has incredibly expressive eyes, and it’s a joy to see them rendered so well. That’s not to mention the organic vocal performances: voice acting is a discrete art and skillset from live-action acting, and by filming the scenes live and animating over them later, it allows the actors to give authentic, organic vocal performances. But by existing in a world of animation, the series can fully explore the story’s surrealist elements, blending worlds and timelines with gorgeous imagery and striking, meaningful transitions. One ambitious highlight is an Escher-esque depiction of a character’s entire life, divided up into countless versions and memories that represent the thorny, complicated issue of identity. 

Salazar continues to prove herself as one of the most exciting voices working in genre television today. In addition to starring in Undone, she also serves as co-producer, a dual role she held on Netflix’s horror series Brand New Cherry Flavor as well. Both are bold, innovative series that push genre boundaries, and it’s thrilling to see Salazar give incredible performance after incredible performance in such inventive projects. I hope to see season 3 of Undone (selfishly, I hope to see it soon, but given the labor-intensive filming process I know it may be a while yet again), but I also can’t help but wonder what she’ll do next, given her impressive track record thus far. 

It’s heartening to see such strong representation in the series: Jacob is Jewish and Camila is a Mexican Catholic; Camilla immigrated to the United States as an adult, while Jacob’s mother Geraldine (Holley Fain) immigrated as a child when she had to escape the rising tide of Nazism in Poland. The series’ treatment of blended immigrant families with different religious, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds (drawn from the creators’ own lives) feels so authentic and lived-in that it proves the adage that the most highly specific characters are the most relatable ones. Additionally, Alma’s disability — she lost most of her hearing as a child and has a cochlear implant — is handled organically and respectfully. It is a part of her story, just like everything else in her life, and it is never treated as anything less than one of the many parts of who she is. 

A still from Undone. Alma and Becca sit at a bar with drinks in front of them. Becca holds a painting in her hands and looks at Alma, who looks off to the side in annoyance.

Undone is an intricate show about so many existential questions. It explores the ways that shame and fear ruin our lives. Living with those emotions is like dangling over a precipice while holding onto barbed wire. The harder you cling to it, the more you bleed, but the fear of the freefall keeps us from letting go. Alma takes it upon herself to try to heal generational trauma, but the further back she goes, the more she realizes she can’t fix everything. Undone is a series about making peace with all parts of yourself, including the parts that you get from your ancestors; it is about forgiving yourself and embracing your own totality. 

The parallels between Undone and Russian Doll must be noted here. It’s pretty astonishing that we get two stellar time-travel series debuting their second seasons within a week and a half of each other, both featuring gleefully acerbic women dealing with questions of mental illness, generational trauma, and existential crises. There are a lot of terrible things in this timeline we inhabit, but what beautiful bright spots these two shows are. What stunning mirrors they are, reflecting a different experience for each viewer as only the best, truest art can. 

There is beauty in scars; hope in the mended places. Just like that kintsugi bowl on Camila’s table, Alma’s life — and the lives she touches — gain strength and beauty every time she tries to heal her family’s scars. Even when she fails, she gains a new understanding of who they are as a family and who she is as a person. Alma’s gift allows her to spread gold through her loved ones’ lives, finding wisdom and joy in the imperfections. Undone is a gorgeous work of art that gently explores those imperfections, showing us the beauty in what they have to say. 

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